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Company of the Year (16-50 Employees): Uptown Auto Parts Inc.

Gagnon learned the building blocks of the automotive industry growing up and working with his dad, who ran a scrap metal business.

Exceptional customer service, backed with hard work, dedication and persistence, has forged Timmins Uptown Auto Parts' annual growth since its inception.

In recognition of the company's progressive business spirit, Uptown Auto Parts is the recipient of the Northern Ontario Business Awards: Company 16-50 employees.

During Uptown's 15 years of operations, owner and president Roger Gagnon knows what it takes to build a successful business.

Gagnon learned the building blocks of the automotive industry growing up and working with his dad, who ran a scrap metal business.

"I was raised around automotives during my childhood," he said. "I owned my first car at 16-years-old and used to change my own engine."

As one of nine children, Gagnon worked during the summers with his father, while his friends swam at the beach. But it was there he learned the value of work and what it took to make money and run a business.

"I've learned over the years the more times you say 'Yes, I have it,' the more the customers come back," he said.

Parts are available on demand, and if it is not stocked, Uptown will either order the part or make every effort to get it.

"That is a key part that helped us grow big and strong," Gagnon said. "At no extra cost, we'll look for it and bring it to them."

In addition to maintaining a well-organized and efficiently-run store and warehouse, the front-line counter workers provide quick and courteous service. Eight phone lines make sure every customer will be attended. A fleet of six delivery vehicles plus a seventh as a back up also provide "shot-gun" delivery, reinforcing the company's philosophy: 'Always go the extra mile to take care of your customers.'

It is this same philosophy that keeps between and 85 and 90 per cent of Uptown's customers coming back.

"When you come in here or you call, we'll make sure you are looked after," Gagnon said.

Since 2000, Gagnon's staff and business has doubled. Now, with 30 employees, they work out of 17,000 square feet, with plans to expand the showroom another 900 sq. ft. this fall.

Initially, Gagnon and his former partner Mario Tambeau began as McKerlie Millen with a modest 1,000 square foot showroom. As demand grew, business quickly increased with an expansion of 6,000 sq. ft.

"When we first started, I only wanted a small operation, just to make enough money to survive," Gagnon explained. "But the demand was so strong; we had to go with the flow. We had no choice. If we wanted to service our customers, we had to grow with it."

In 1998, a U.S. Company called Carquest Auto Parts bought out McKerlie Millen. Gagnon saw the value in this franchise and proceeded with the change.

By the year 2000, they had once again outgrown their location and needed to move to a larger building. After about seven months of renovation while continuing to service customers at the original store, Carquest supplied 16 men to move the business over the span of a weekend.

"Monday morning we were able to answer the phones and do business," Gagnon said, thankful for the help supplied by Carquest, which made the transition easier.

The larger space allowed the company to buy in bulk, enabling them to be more competitive and maintain a $1 million inventory.

"If you don't have it, you can't sell it," Gagnon said, cognizant of lost dollars during production down time for busy manufacturing, forestry and mining companies.

"I learned from my dad how to buy and sell inventory, how long to keep it and how to watch for the pricing. At a young age, it taught me a lot regarding inventory, how to handle it and make money with it."

In 2006, Gagnon became sole proprietor and acquired strategies necessary to continue to make the business thrive. With his two sons, Jason and Shawn, Gagnon has developed a skilled management team of six to oversee 24 employees.

Thankful for his employees, he acknowledges their hard work and the important role they play in the success of the company.

"We wouldn’t be where we are today without the employees," he said.

Now, Gagnon focuses on the overall operations of the business, although he'll hop in at a moment's notice and help out with calls or work the front counter as needed. He also makes a concerted effort to support local organizations within the community, as the plaques that line his office wall will attest.

Uptown Auto Parts won the 2008 Nova Award for Best Auto Store and for two consecutive years maintained the Daily Press Reader's Choice Award for Best Auto Store.

On the days when he finds some down time, he enjoys spending it with his grandchildren fishing, playing hockey or taking them for a fun-filled day at Canada's Wonderland.